By Angela Franks
Pro-lifers have frequently made the case that the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), the nation's largest abortion provider, has a tainted past, but it can be difficult to find the hard information to bolster these claims. Let's examine a little of PPFA's history and the current activities of this organization in order to arm ourselves for the fight against this force of the culture of death. In this article, we'll focus on its founder's fascination with eugenics and whether Margaret Sanger can be fairly labeled a racist.
Margaret Sanger and Eugenics
Planned Parenthood dates its founding from 1916. To understand Planned Parenthood, one must understand the ideology of Margaret Sanger.
While Planned Parenthood adamantly insists otherwise, it is clear that Sanger (1879-1966) was a eugenicist. She believed that birth control served a great eugenic purpose by stopping those she described as the genetically "unfit" from reproducing.
In her 1920 book, Woman and the New Race, Sanger explicitly called her work "nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or those who will become defectives." As she wrote in The Birth Control Review, "the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the overfertility of the mentally and physically defective."
Sanger did not rule out coercion if the "wrong" people had children. She wrote, "Possibly drastic and Spartan methods may be forced upon society if it continues complacently to encourage the chance and chaotic breeding that has resulted from our stupidly cruel sentimentalism." "Choice," indeed.
Planned Parenthood's History of Eugenics
Sanger was not the only eugenicist involved with Planned Parenthood. Alan Guttmacher, president of Planned Parenthood from 1962-1974, once told a Planned Parenthood gathering, "The mentally retarded and the mentally defective . . . insidiously are replacing the people of normal mentality."
Guttmacher, Sanger, and others in Planned Parenthood actively courted the involvement of eugenicists. In the 1920s, the "National Council" of her American Birth Control League had at least 23 persons involved at a prominent level in eugenics-nearly one-half the entire council!
The American Eugenic Society (AES) officially endorsed her group in 1932, and Sanger was a dues-paying member of the AES through the 1960s. Among those on her council was Lothrop Stoddard, a prominent racist who wrote The Rising Tide of Color Against White Supremacy and who also published eugenic articles in Sanger's magazine.
Was Margaret Sanger a Racist?
So, was Sanger also a racist, like Lothrop Stoddard? Sometimes pro-lifers quote editions of the magazine she founded, The Birth Control Review, in which officials from Nazi Germany were published. Others point to ominous-sounding quotes from her letters, including a letter written to Clarence J. Gamble, M.D., in which she wrote that "we don't want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population. . . ."
But Sanger did not edit the Review during the time the Nazi articles appeared, and she frequently expressed disgust at German Fascism. The quote from the Gamble letter is also not definitive proof Sanger was a racist.
From the context, it appears as though she was (rather sloppily) explaining a misconception, not advocating racial cleansing. Moreover, she did not evince racist attitudes in other letters and speeches.
So it seems as though Sanger was a eugenicist, who wanted to restrict the "unfit" (the poor, those of supposedly lesser intelligence, or those with disabilties, etc.) from having children, but not a racist, because she did not consider members of other races "unfit" on account of their race.
So does she get off scot-free on the racism charge? Well, not quite. As we saw with the example of Lothrop Stoddard, Sanger worked with racists and did not make a move to check their racist thinking. More seriously, she also promoted a eugenic ideology that led in the end to the gas chambers. Once society starts judging who is "fit" and "unfit" and determining on that basis who should not reproduce, the inalienable value of every human being is quickly denied.
Of course, few if any current members of Planned Parenthood are likely to know the history just described or would agree with such bald eugenic claims. Nevertheless, the organization in fact advances the eugenic agenda, even if often unconsciously.
For example, Planned Parenthood has never ceased to target the poor and disabled, Sanger's favorite examples of the so-called "unfit." In the year 2000, almost 75% of PPFA clients had incomes at or below 150% of the poverty line. In 1997, PPFA's Plan of Action asserted that its "core clients" are "young women, low-income women, and women of color." Accordingly, although African-American women tend to be more pro-life than white women, they nonetheless have abortions at triple the rate of white women.
Similarly, those with disabilities feel the old eugenic bias of Planned Parenthood. A former employee of PPFA, who herself had disabilities, complained that her colleagues believed in the "need" to abort fetuses diagnosed with disabilities. "There was a feeling that they were bad babies," she told the New York Times. "There was a strong eugenics mentality that exhibited disdain, discomfort, and ignorance toward disabled babies."
That mentality is what drives the acceptance by PPFA of "search and destroy" abortions, in which amniocentesis is used to target unborn children who have disabilities. If you are an unborn baby near a Planned Parenthood clinic, any disability could be life-threatening.
That brings us back to where we began, to abortion. In 2002, PPFA performed 227,385 abortions, an increase of about 7% over 2001, during a time in which the total number of abortions in America decreased steadily. Planned Parenthood is the most successful abortion franchise in the country. A conservative estimate of the amount of revenue generated by these abortions would total over $79 million.
Pro-Lifers Say, "No Thanks"
So can pro-lifers fight such a behemoth? Yes, fortunately, through a lot of hard work. The Target department-store chain recently pledged to stop funding PPFA, in part because of pressure put on it by pro-life shareholders. City councils have often been successful in zoning out PPFA's clinics. States have passed laws to defund the organization and fought important political battles in this regard. Recently in Austin, Texas, PPFA could not find a contractor to build its new clinic, because a pro-life contractor organized a boycott.
Whatever weapon is used against Planned Parenthood, pro-lifers must not grow tired or discouraged. For we must be very clear in understanding this: we stand in the breach. The unborn, the disabled, the poor - - all depend on us for our action.
Angela Franks's book, Margaret Sanger's Eugenic Legacy: The Control of Female Fertility, will be published by McFarland in the fall. Visit www.mcfarlandpub.com for more information.